Next year, Nevada voters will decide on an initiative to replace that state's system of electing judges with one that provides for appointing the judges to the bench and letting voters whether to retain them.
Journalists have documented serious corruption in Nevada's judiciary in recent years, so the initiative is timely. But the campaign won't be an easy one. As the Las Vegas Sun reports, a well-financed campaign to oppose the initiative is forming, with the leadership of the Republican strategist Sig Rogich.
Nevada appears on its way to adopt a distribution requirement for petition circulators: to qualify an initiative, signatures would have to gather a minimum number of signatures in all four of the state's Congressional districts. (This represents a change from earlier versions of the bill, which would have required signatures from all 42 Assembly districts).
I'm torn on the question of distribution requirements. In principle, it's fair to require that signatures be gathered across the state -- a statewide measure should be truly statewide. In California, which doesn't have a signature requirement, the vast bulk of signatures come from the south. And the percentage of signatures collected in San Diego County, the hotbed of direct democracy in the state, far surpasses the percentage of state voters who live in that county.
But distribution requirements also add significantly to the cost of petition drives. And when signature gathering becomes more expensive, the initiative process can only be used by wealthy individuals and interest groups.
Exhibit A is Nevada, where a bill would create a distribution requirement for signature gathering. That is, an initiative sponsor would have to get signatures equal to 10 percent of the vote in each of the state's 42 Assembly districts. That would effectively end ballot initiatives in the state. Such a process would be far too expensive and time-consuming for anyone but the wealthiest of the wealthy.
The initiative process badly needs reform. But a "reform" that merely adds unreasonable signature gathering requirements isn't worthy of the name. Yes, it perhaps should be harder to pass initiatives. But the focus should be on giving voters better choices, bringing the legislature into the process (in a way that improves voter choice but doesn't block voter preference), and fighting fraud in signature gathering. Nevada should look at adding the legislative counter proposal to its initiative process, making initiative petitions public as a fraud prevention measure, and improving the information it provides voters. That's real reform.
The powerful Culinary Union in Vegas has gathered enough signatures to qualify two measures -- a referendum and an initiative -- for the Las Vegas city ballot. But the council refuses to put them on the ballot, the Review-Journal reports.
Why? The council claims that the two measures have technical deficiencies that make them illegal. The initiative would put new restrictions on lease-purchase agreements, thereby reversing the city council's approval of a costly new City Hall, a questionable expenditure at a time of profound economic difficulty in Nevada. The other would reverse the city's current redevelopment plan. The council says that if such a referendum were successful, existing projects and bonds would be in jeopardy.
The question of whether the measures may be put on the ballot now goes to the courts. While the battle is economic -- between a powerful union and a pro-business city council, the court result will test whether elected officials have the power to keep referenda and initiatives they don't like off the ballot.
Bill Sizemore is an Oregon activist who has been engaged in fighting teachers' unions at the ballot for years. But he's been less than devoted to filing proper tax forms for the non-profit group he uses to wage initiative battles. The unions have fought him successfully in court. Because of his intrasigence, Sizemore has been barred by court order from pursuing initiatives, but he's found it impossible to stop. This week, he was sent to a jail for contempt of court (this is the fourth time he's been held in contempt).
His crime? Defying earlier court orders by using a Nevada charitable foundation he controls to pursue initiatives on the 2006 and 2008 ballots. He backed five measures on this year's ballot--all five lost.
Sizemore was released Tuesday after 24 hours when he signed state and federal tax forms for the foundation. But he was unrepetenant, arguing that he's a political prisoner. A more accurate description of Sizemore? He's an initiative addict. He doesn't need time in jail. He needs an intervention.
The Oregonian profiles Loren Parks, the Nevada millionaire who has given big to Oregon initiative campaigns.
A federal judge ruled Monday that a new Nevada rule applying signature gathering requirements to all counties was unconstitutional. The distribution requirement said that it wasn't enough to simply get signatures from 10 percent of all voters in the state. Ballot measure sponsors needed 10 percent of voters in each county as well. The rule was one reason behind the widespread failure of initiatives to qualify for the ballot in Nevada this year.
A group representing tip-earning casino workers in Nevada earlier this year filed a statewide initiative to bar casinos from forcing them to pool their tips and share them with supervisors. Then they got a lesson in direct democracy. Their initiative, and 11 others, were challenged by opponents and successfully knocked off the ballot.
Now the union-backed group, PEST (Committee to Prevent Employees From Seizing Tips") has gone to court, filing a lawsuit that claims the state's rules on ballot initiatives are unconstitutional. If this suit gets any traction, it will be worth watching because casino workers are challenging everything -- the single subject rule, the requirements for title and summary, and the ability of opposition groups to challenge a measure before signatures are filed.
In Nevada, not a single ballot initiative has managed to qualify for the ballot this year. There were 17 attempts (and four remain alive in the courts). But initiative sponsors ran afoul of changes in state law and requirements that signatures be collected in every county. The Las Vegas Review Journal breaks this down.
This is a big black eye for the signature gathering business. A Nevada district judge, James Todd Russell, has disqualified three well-funded ballot initiatives because of problems with the affidavits signed by petition circulators. These were arguably the three biggest initiatives in the state. One initiative would divert casino taxes to education and other state issues. Another was the son of Prop 13 measure that would have required a two-thirds vote in the legislature to raise taxes. Backers included a former state treasurer and former controller.
What happened? In July 2007, the state legislature adopted new requirements for the affidavits that signature gatherers sign to verify that signatures are real. These new requirements, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, included a statement that the gatherer personally circulated the document, that the number of signatures were counted, and that each signer had an opportunity to read the text of the initiative.
However, Nevada Secretary of State Ross MIller never updated his web site, which lists the rules for such affidavits, to reflect these changes. It appears that signature gatherers relied on the web site and thus did not comply with the new law.
Here's what the judge had to say: "It is unfortunate here that someone didn't do there homework prior to the circulation of these initiatives, although I think the secretary of state could probably have done a better job in this particular case."